Putting the “h” into “sitcom”


13 Oct 2009, 19:51

Following my endorsement of DJ Format in my last journal, syknyk very kindly recommended that I listen to DJ Yoda. As it happens, I do own DJ Yoda's How to Cut and Paste: 80's Edition but I don’t listen to it very often: while parts of it are indeed excellent, there are other bits which are slightly too cheesy, even for someone of my fromage-fetishising tendencies. Nevertheless, I scuttled over to my CD shelves and dug it out.

I had forgotten, and was delighted to be reminded, that the sleeve notes contain an unexpected bonus, in the form of a series of Top 5 lists of various 80s things. Want to know what Dan Greenpeace’s Top 5 Crap 80s Raps are? Or Mike Lewis of Lewis Recording’s Top 5 80s BMX Parts? It’s all here.

While most of the choices are right on the money, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take issue with Spread Love’s James Lebens’ Top 5 Lukewarm 80s Sitcoms. Here are his picks:

  • Just Good Friends

  • Me And My Girl

  • Fresh Fields

  • Home To Roost

  • Never The Twain

It’s not that these choices are bad or wrong, exactly; in fact, they all fulfil the essential criteria for a lukewarm sitcom, namely:

a) While you would never actually laugh out loud while watching any of them, they might prompt you to pull a strange half smile/half grimace once or twice per episode.

b) You would never, ever buy the DVD boxset, or even intentionally watch them on the telly, but if you were sitting in front of UK Gold on a Tuesday afternoon and an episode came on, and you didn’t have any washing up or hoovering to be getting on with, and the remote control was just slightly out of your reach, you would probably continue to watch the episode to the end. And then feel slightly disappointed with yourself afterwards.

However, Lebens’ list neglects several other sitcoms that were equally tepid and almost-but-not-quite mirthsome. I plan to detail these below, and will be doing so based solely on what I can dredge from the dim recesses of my memory, without recourse to Wikipedia, YouTube and suchlike. (I might add some YouTube videos after I’ve written it though, as there are few things on this earth better than a TV theme tune performed by one or more members of the cast instead of a professional singer.) Partly this is in homage to Nicholson Baker’s superb U & I, in which Baker writes an extended critical appraisal of John Updike’s work without actually going back and re-reading any of it, and partly, well, it's because I’m a lazy sow who can’t be arsed to do even the most basic research.

Wish me luck...

The Two Of Us
Nicholas Lyndhurst and Janet Dibley are Ashley and Elaine, a young professional couple (she’s a teacher, he does something that involves wearing a suit and going to an office or a bank, I forget what). They have a VW Beetle and live together in a tiny basement flat even though – gasp! – they’re not married. Ashley’s granddad, to whom he frequently turns for fatherly advice, is a rakish old goat called Perce. There’s an upstairs neighbour or a landlord or someone who pops around often and at inconvenient moments. Er, that’s it.

Malcolm is a geeky bloke who enjoys birdwatching and still lives with his mum (my brain wants me to say that she is played by Nursey from Blackadder, but I’m not 100% sure this is correct). Brenda is a small, screechy Scouse woman. They meet in no doubt humorous circumstances and then “go out” with each other for six series. Malcolm’s mum is disapproving, because Brenda is an ITV sitcom writer’s idea of a female punk – i.e. she has slightly backcombed hair and orders halves of snakebite down the pub. Liza Tarbuck is Brenda’s frumpy older sister (this is before her chrysalis-like transformation from overweight, unfunny daughter of Jimmy Tarbuck to radiant national treasure with a filthy laugh and a cracking pair of bangers). Er, that’s it.

(NB: notable mainly for the theme tune, which is sung in quavering Liverpudlian tones by Brenda, and almost achieves “so crap, it’s brilliant” status, were it not for the fact that it flies straight past “brilliant” before, propelled by its own momentum, teetering over the precipice and hurtling back towards “crap” again.)

Girls On Top
Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ruby Wax and Tracey Ullman (see? You’re laughing already) are four women who share a flat on the top floor of their building (ergo they are “girls” and they’re “on top”, do you see?). Dawn French is a left-wing, CND-supporting radical feminist; Ruby Wax is American; and Jennifer Saunders and Tracey Ullman... evince some other personality traits which are inherently hilarious. Also starring Joan Greenwood as a mad old bat who wears a turban and smokes Sobranies. Er, that’s it.

Duty Free
Keith Barron and Gwen Taylor are a husband and wife who are on a package holiday in Spain, seemingly permanently. They meet another, slightly posher, couple who are also holidaying there and Keith and the saucy posh bird have a surreptitious romance. There is a Spanish waiter who behaves exactly as you would expect a Spanish waiter to behave. Everyone drinks industrial quantities of Pina Colada, and Keith spends a lot of time hiding in wardrobes or falling into swimming pools. Er, that’s it.

Don't Wait Up
Fern Britton’s dad stars with upper-class smoothy and founder member of The Nigel Havers Allliance Nigel Havers as a father and son who are both doctors. They live in the same house, although I can’t remember why. Fern Britton’s dad is a private consultant, while Nige is more idealistic and is all like, “No way, man, I’m going to give something back to society and, like, work for the NHS!” Being as they are both doctors and are mighty fine specimens of manhood to boot, they have no shortage of attention from the ladies (I think Nigel ends up getting married in one of the later series). Hilariously, Nigel, the son, is more mature and responsible than Fern Britton’s dad, the dad! Er, that’s it.

I note that, with the exception of Don’t Wait Up, all of these are ITV sitcoms. I’m not sure whether this is indicative of the quality of the BBC’s comedy programming in the 80s, or whether it is a reflection on the critical faculties of the pre-teenage me.

Anyway, what’s your favourite slightly rubbish 80s sitcom that you can barely remember, please?


  • muzikizum

    ITV was certainly the home of lukewarm entertainment. However one BBC comedy springs to mind and that' was 'Rosie'. The one about a provincial policeman who had a tubby partner that was constantly pulling his pants from his arse cheeks. Nice. Unable to find anything on youtube so far :(

    13 Oct 2009, 20:02
  • bobbiflekman

    Do you know, I've never, ever heard of "Rosie" - I feel like I've lived only half a life now :( Is this it? If so, the theme tune alone renders it a lukewarm sitcom par excellence. (No arse cheeks on display though, thank goodness.)

    13 Oct 2009, 22:36
  • muzikizum

    Yes, that's it, you really are too young for that one. Something in the back of my head is telling me that it, or rather PC Rosewood, was a spin-off from another equally mediocre show. I must investigate...

    13 Oct 2009, 22:41
  • muzikizum

    Ha, trumped your opening credits with this one..http://www.tv-ark.org.uk/flvsystem_lite/player.php?id=a57ee075c546d0f23511d1d01742971e&media=rosie30101981&type=mp4 Kick out the pro-singer and get a member of the cast to do it, genius. Also video and audio evidence of PC Wilmot's crotch re-alignment.

    13 Oct 2009, 22:49
  • syknyk

    i don't know how this will go down with you, but my Mum loved Watching too....

    14 Oct 2009, 12:14
  • bobbiflekman

    Crotch re-alignment??! It was his arse cheeks a minute ago. That updated theme tune is well "zhooshy". I like the way that the lyrics explain the entire "sit" for the eager viewer, leaving lots of time for the "com" in the actual programme, no doubt. And look! Here is a tribute page to Watching where syknyk's Mum and I can reminisce fondly about our favourite show - it's quite sweet really.

    14 Oct 2009, 13:12
  • muzikizum

    Sorry, having trouble telling my arse from my elbow...

    14 Oct 2009, 13:30
  • IanAR

    I'm at a loss! I think, I was to busy in the 80s to let bad TV bug me. George and Mildred did bug me, but that was 70s and must've been on before something I regularly wanted to watch, e.g. The Kenny Everett Video Show - Ian

    17 Oct 2009, 22:02
  • bobbiflekman

    Funnily enough, Snot Rap was one of the Top 5 "Crap Raps". I would concur, except that it sounds BRILLIANT sped up by about 10%, as demonstrated here.

    20 Oct 2009, 16:26
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